Isabella Mary Mayson was born on 12 March 1836 at 24 Milk Street, Cheapside, London, and died 6 February 1865 at the tender age of 28. Better known as Mrs Beeton, the English author of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management, (first published in 1861) she is commonly regarded as one of the first and best of cookery writers.
Her father, Benjamin Mayson, died when she was young and her mother, Elizabeth Jerram, later married Henry Dorling, a widower with four children of his own and they lived in Epsom, Surrey where Henry was Clerk of Epsom Racecourse.
Sent to school in Heidelberg, Germany, Isabella became an accomplished pianist. With her four half-sisters she had 21 siblings, a huge family even by Victorian standards, and being the eldest, this is probably where she would have honed her abilities in babysitting and general household management, which gave her the experience to write her famous book.
Samuel Orchart Beeton, Mr Beeton, was also born in Milk Street. Even after the move to Epsom their mothers had kept in touch. On a visit to London, Isabella was introduced to Samuel Beeton, who had become a publisher of books and magazines. The Beetons were married on 10 July 1856 at St Martin’s Parish Church, Epsom.
In August of that year they moved into their first home, a large Italianate property at 2 Chandos Villas on the Woodridings Estate in Hatch End. Their first child, Samuel Orchart, was born in May 1857 but died of croup in August of that year. In September 1859, their second son, also named Samuel Orchart, was born.
From 1859 to 1861, she wrote a monthly supplement to The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine. (above left) On 25 December 1861, the supplements were published as a single volume:
The Book of Household Management, comprising information for the Mistress, Housekeeper, Cook, Kitchen-Maid, Butler, Footman, Coachman, Valet, Upper and Under House-Maids, Lady’s-Maid, Maid-of-all-Work, Laundry-Maid, Nurse and Nurse-Maid, Monthly Wet and Sick Nurses, etc. etc.—also Sanitary, Medical, & Legal Memoranda: with a History of the Origin, Properties, and Uses of all Things Connected with Home Life and Comfort.
It was a guide to running a Victorian household, with comprehensive advice on fashion, child care, animal husbandry, poisons, the management of servants, science, religion, and industrialism.
Mrs Beeton also highlights the importance of both animal welfare and the use of local and seasonal produce, long before such concerns became mainstream.
Of the 1,112 pages, over 900 contained recipes, such that another popular name for the volume is Mrs Beeton’s Cookbook. Most of the recipes were illustrated with coloured engravings, and it was the first book to show recipes in a format that is still used today. It is said that many of the recipes were actually plagiarised from earlier writers (including Eliza Acton). But the Beetons never claimed that the book’s contents were original. It was intended as a guide of reliable information for the aspirant middle classes. Mrs Beeton is perhaps described better as its compiler and editor than as its author, many of the passages clearly being not her own words
In 1861, Samuel Beeton founded The Queen, the Ladies’ Newspaper, a weekly magazine for ladies, but not fashion oriented at first. It focused on high society and detailed London social events. The articles covered occupations, literature, and other amusements suitable for proper ladies. In 1862, Beeton sold The Queen to William Cox.
In December of that year their son was taken ill with scarlet fever while on holiday in Brighton. He died on New Year’s Eve. Mrs. Beeton gave birth to two other sons, Orchart (on New Year’s Eve in 1863) and Mayson Moss (in January 1865). The day after the birth of her fourth child, in January 1865, Isabella caught puerperal fever. She died a week later, aged 28. Her widower lived for another twelve years and died of tuberculosis in June 1877 at the age of 46.
Both are buried at West Norwood Cemetery in south London. The original memorial became dilapidated and her children replaced it with a simple memorial stone in the 1930s. Their home at Hatch End was destroyed by a German bomb during an air raid in September 1940 and the site is now occupied by a parade of shops.